The Great Divide

Ever stop to think about what it is that divides us? I’ve been thinking about this for some time now. Trying to decide if I had anything worth saying on the topic, or even if I could put my thoughts into words in such a way that I didn’t inadvertently widen the chasm.

As a police officer I’ve seen more than my share of hate and violence. Watched people do and say horrific things to each other. Witnessed families torn apart by abuse, both the domestic and substance variety. Sometimes both.

I’ve seen the ugliness of death and the ache of despair. I watched people publicly champion a cause and then turn a blind eye to those in need. It’s the human condition. None of us are immune from its hypocrisy.

Back in 2012, after nearly three decades as a cop, I made the decision to get out. Being a cop and witnessing the worst humanity had to offer day in and day out took a toll, as it does on every first responder. Quite honestly I was tired. Tired of other people and the way they treated each other. Tired of trying to make a positive difference in their lives, and never quite feeling that I had.

Hanging up my gun and badge was cathartic, and it worked for a while. My focus changed, along with my experiences. It was nice to spend time with people who weren’t drunk, or bloodied, or crazed. No longer was there a need for me to act as referee while adults, acting as children, attempted to inflict physical harm on one another over differences of opinion.

Lately however I feel as if I’ve traveled back in time. I’ve gotten repeated glimpses into the ugliness of human nature. Social media has become a place to strike out at others who disagree with our points of view, on literally every single topic. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. You’re either with us or against us. Sound familiar?

I’ve heard others express the same feelings of lament over these interactions, then go about their business as if they played no part in it. People I look up to and consider friends have written and said things to and about others that I would never think about writing or saying.

I submit to you that we all play a part in it. The way we treat others, the way we respond. Has the need to be right, at all costs, become more important than the need for compassion? Is it possible that the very people we are condemning have had vastly different life experiences from our own? Perhaps we could actually learn from one another instead of shutting each other out, blocking, or unfriending. I shake my head each time I see that word used. When I was growing up we never had need of such a word as unfriending. Oh, you could be “on the outs” with someone, but that was really only a temporary status. You could be pissed at someone but still be their friend. Maybe it’s because there was more to earning friendship than clicking accept in an electronic box.

Have we become so cold-hearted and distant as a society that we can no longer be bothered to take the time to make real and lasting friendships?

I’ve watched fellow writers struggle with a bad review or writer’s block, and I’ve felt for them. We all know how difficult it is to invest so much of ourselves and our feelings into the books we write. But then I’ve looked on in amazement as these same people piled on when another writer had some “undeserved success”, or garnered some “undeserved accolade”, or crossed some imagined “territorial boundary”. I don’t pretend to know what any of my fellow writers have been through in their lives, but I know that we all have stories in need of telling. And I will defend the right to tell those stories. 

Perhaps the way in which we, as a society, can begin to heal is through reflection. Before we post another provocative tweet, or share some inflammatory meme, or say something we will later regret, maybe we should pause and ask ourselves is this really necessary? Would I say this if the person was standing right in front of me? Am I part of the problem?

Are you like me? Are you tired of what the world has become? Would you like to have a more positive outlook on life? Ask yourself what you can do, or not do, today that will brighten someone else’s day. Perhaps we would all do well to heed Otis’s advice and try a little tenderness. Let’s start with that.

My Tribe

In three weeks time I will have been retired from law enforcement for seven years. Seven! Even as I look at the calendar I am unsure how time passed so quickly. But a quick trip into Portland and the sight of another twelve-year-old behind the wheel of a black and white confirms the awful truth. I am officially a dinosaur.

If you’ve followed some of my prior blog posts you already know how much I struggled after leaving my police life behind. The first few weeks were grand. It felt like a vacation. The phone wasn’t ringing constantly, no frantic emails to return, no emergency trips into Portland in the dead of night. It was truly great. But then, after those first few weeks had passed, I noticed something. The phone wasn’t ringing. There were no emails. Nobody needed me. It was as if I’d become obsolete overnight. Worse was the realization that I had lost that decades long connection to my police family. It might be hard for some of you reading this to imagine the feeling of no longer belonging, especially if you’re still approaching retirement from your current occupation. But trust me, it’s an unnerving experience.

I’ve known for some time that my fellow mystery/thriller writers are a welcoming and supportive group of folks. That awareness began in New England, quickly spreading to faraway places like Ireland and Australia. Fellow crime scribes abound. But it wasn’t until a week ago that I realized exactly where I belong.

I was in Tennessee attending my first Killer Nashville mystery writers’ conference. If you are a mystery writer, or hoping to be, this is a can’t miss conference. Similar in size to the New England Crime Bake, Killer Nashville draws writers from far and wide, each of whom are more than willing to share their knowledge, both of writing and the business of writing. I took part in several panels and book signings, but more importantly I got to spend time with old friends and made some new.

On Saturday night the awards banquet was held. A classy event with a fabulous band, great food, some heartfelt speeches, and the presentation of Killer Nashville’s annual awards. As the evening unfolded I had occasion to really observe the people seated at my table, former journalists, musicians, and a cop. While our our prior occupations ran the gamut, each of us shares a love of storytelling and a passion for the written word. Amid the laughter, gaiety, and playful irreverence was the unwavering support and appreciation displayed for their fellow writers. As I watched them interact with one another it occurred to me that these were exactly the same people I had surrounded myself with when I still wore a badge. People from all walks of life, with widely varying backgrounds and experiences, united by a remarkable passion for their chosen career. I realized, with certainty, that I had once again found my tribe.

Still Adapting

Hello all you loyal followers of Murder Books. Bruce Robert Coffin here wishing you a joyous summer.

This month I thought I’d discuss the struggle of moving from one career to a completely different endeavor. In my case that is the ongoing transition from police work to novel writing. I used the word ongoing because it has finally occurred to me that this is a slow process.

As anyone who has ever worn the badge can attest, those old routines and mindsets die hard, if ever. So deeply engrained into my psyche was the necessity of keeping a charged cellphone on the nightstand each night as I crawled into bed, ringer on of course, that shutting it off now seems verboten. Like I’m committing a mortal sin by killing the ringtone. I think “Thou shall not kill the ringtone” was actually contained within the pages of my department’s SOP. This was one of the realities of my job, the twenty-four seven nature of detective work. It was never a question of whether or not the phone ring after I’d called it a night, it usually did. The only question was what time the call would come and would said call necessitate me driving into work.

As a novel writer, I don’t receive many urgent late night communications. Most everything these days can wait until morning, or at least until my 3A.M. muse slaps me upside the head and orders me to get back to the work in progress.

But authoring full time doesn’t let me off the hook from all of my programming. Nope, I still back the vehicle into wherever I’m parking, in case there’s need to respond quickly. I still pick the table or booth that affords me a view of the room with my back to the wall. I still carry things in my left hand, keeping my gun hand free. Still unfasten the seatbelt as I turn into the driveway, allowing for quick exit. Whenever I’m in public I still watch for furtive actions on the part of everyone around me. Hell, I still write about police work. The cop’s sense never goes away, and for safety’s sake I guess I wouldn’t want it to.

I still remember sitting on the beach in Saint Martin, with some fellow law dawgs, watching as three wolves descended on an unsuspecting couple. The middle-aged man and woman were seated on lawn chairs and mesmerized by the brilliant turquoise-colored Caribbean. The woman had stowed her pocketbook and shopping bags behind her chair, in full view to all who passed by, including the three wolves. By now you’re probably wondering how we knew they were wolves. For one they had nothing with them. No towels. No suits. No chairs. No Jimmy Buffet tee-shirts. No adult beverages, although they hardly looked old enough to legally consume anyway. What they did possess were running sneakers on their feet, bodies that looked extremely fleet of foot, and clothes that identify them as locals, not tourists. As we watched they surrounded their mark, moving ever closer to the couple, while trying unsuccessfully to look disinterested. It was obvious to us that they had done this many times before. Finally, before the curtain fell on this little drama, we walked over and let the couple know what was about to go down. Turns out they were on the same cruise ship. They thanked us and the woman moved her valuables around to the front where they could both keep and eye on them. Eventually, the three wolves moved on. One at a time, still trying to look as if they belonged, they rose and wandered away, each one fixing us with a look of contempt. I tell you this story because it’s what every cop does. None of us, regardless of our “after cop life” career, can ever completely shut off that part of us.

So while I may spend my days writing, or traveling to libraries, bookstores, conferences, and colleges to talk about writing, my inner cop still lives. And he still struggles with shutting off the ringtone.

Write on!

A Malice to Remember

Well another Malice Domestic Mystery Writer’s Conference is in the books, my third to be exact. And although the District of Columbia hasn’t quite released her grip on me, stuck at Reagan National even as I type this, it was a fabulous conference. From Donna Andrews, guest of honor, to my impromptu pre-banquet chat with the charming Cathy Ace, to having my most recent novel in contention for the coveted Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Mystery, it was a Malice to be remembered.

People often ask me what it is about writer conferences that make them special. There are so many different things it’s really hard to give a succinct answer. Getting to see the friends we generally only connect with on social media or by email, cheer on each other’s latest book or short fiction, talk about all things writing and our shared love of the craft, attending and taking part in panels, signing books and meeting fans, and on and on. What’s not to love?

Mystery conferences are very similar to mystery authors in that they come in all shapes and sizes, and they might just pop up most anywhere. Some conferences focus more on craft, some on getting published, some are largely fan based conferences and some are a combination of all these things. Malice is one of my favorite conferences, probably because it’s close to home (that is unless thundershowers thwart your flight plans), it’s warm and inviting, and because I know so many of the attendees. As far as size goes, Malice is what Goldilocks would have described as “just right.” Not too big to be impersonal and not so small that it won’t inspire.

This year I had the honor of taking part in a panel titled “Simply the Best” along with fellow Agatha Nominees Ellen Byron, Annette Dashofy, and Hank Phillippi Ryan. Also nominated was Louise Penny but she was unable to attend this year. Each of us was up for the Agatha for Best Contemporary Mystery Novel. The panel, which was a total blast, was moderated by Kristopher Zgorski, CEO and Chief Bottle Washer (BCW) of BOLO Books. Kristopher did a great job of putting us all at ease, and the attendees were very engaged.

Saturday night was perhaps the most fun of all. Every attendee got dressed to the nines for the Malice Banquet and Award Ceremony. My wife helped me pick my wardrobe so I couldn’t screw it up, or at least not too badly. There were many first time winners at this year’s awards, including two ties! Best First Novel was split between Dianne Freeman for A Ladies Guide to Etiquette and Murder, and Shari Randall for her novel Curses Boiled Again. And the Best Short Story Award was shared by Leslie Budewitz for All God’s Sparrows, and Tara Laskowski for her short The Case of the Vanishing Professor. Other Winners include Sujata Massey who won Best Historical for The Widows of Malabar Hill, Cindy Callaghan who won the Best Young Adult Mystery category for Potion Problems (Just Add Magic), and Jane Cleland who won the Best Nonfiction for Mastering Plot Twists.

Beyond the Truth didn’t win the Agatha Award, that distinguished honor went to the very talented Ellen Byron (no relation to John…at least I don’t think she is) for her novel Mardi Gras Murder. But surrounded by a multitude of friends, at one of my favorite mystery conferences, it’s hard to imagine anything more rewarding.

If you’re a fan of mysteries, or perhaps a writer of them, I highly recommend that you check out Malice Domestic. You won’t be disappointed.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think my rescheduled flight is boarding.

Write on!

Saint Nicholas

Several years ago I penned a tale titled Saint Nicholas, which I post every year as a holiday greeting to friends near and far. Knowing that many folks find the holidays a bit overwhelming, I wrote this seasonal short story to remind us all what is truly important and to provide an emotional lift to those in need. If I’ve done my job well, this story will put a smile on your face and some warmth in your hearts. Feel free to share if you think it might mean something to others. Here’s wishing you and yours a safe and happy holiday season.

Bruce Robert Coffin

I’ve always believed that it’s part of the human condition to focus on the negative. Maybe it has something to do with our upbringing, although upon reflection we are all raised very differently so perhaps not. Whatever it is, it definitely exists in each of us. How else can we explain the age old news reporting axiom “if it bleeds it leads?” Police officers are even more inclined to focus on the negative. Being exposed to it day in and day out tends to make one jaded. But, I’m getting way ahead of myself. I should probably begin by telling you a little bit about me before I tell you my story.

My name is Crispin Mallory and, in case you haven’t already guessed, I am a police officer. I’ve been with the same department for thirty years, pushing a cruiser around, investigating motor vehicle accidents, breaking up domestics, chasing down criminals, and writing the occasional traffic citation.

One day, several years back, I was working a double shift. Cops aren’t paid all that well and when an overtime opportunity presents itself most of us are quick to say yes. It was December twenty-fourth and I had just finished my first tour. I’d returned to the station to attend roll call before heading back out for another eight hours. I was tired and not in a particularly festive mood, mostly due to the fact that I had to work on Christmas, which meant my wife and two children would be celebrating without me. Another holiday missed. Such is the life of a cop. Anyway, the sergeant held me back after the briefing, said he had a task for me. I was instructed to return some valuables to a local home for the aged. Apparently one of the nursing staff had confessed to stealing jewelry from some of the residents at the home, to support her drug habit. See what I mean? All negative. The sergeant provided me with the name of the medical administrator and asked me to deliver the items to him.

After checking out a squad car and loading my gear, I got on the radio and requested that the dispatcher show me 10-6 (busy) on assignment. I drove toward the nursing home, stopping long enough to grab a drive through coffee along the way.

I parked in the lot and made my way inside. The receptionist was talking to one of the orderlies and they both turned as I entered.

“Hello officer,” the receptionist said. “Merry Christmas.”

I returned the greeting.

“What can I do for you?” she asked.

“I’m looking for Mr. Ashby,” I said. “I’m supposed to deliver something to him.”

“I’ll try his extension.”

I wandered around the lobby as she tried to locate Ashby. Everything was brightly painted and decorated for the season. In one corner stood a small lit Christmas tree from which emanated the pleasant scent of balsam. I wondered if the employees were still allowed to call it a Christmas tree.

“Officer,” the receptionist called out.


“Mr. Ashby will be right out.”

I thanked her and continued to look around. Ashby walked up to me and introduced himself as the facility’s head administrator. I explained my purpose for being there and he led me back to his office so we could talk in private.

Once we were seated, I handed him the package and an evidence slip explaining that he needed to sign for the items.

“I am so pleased that your detectives were able to recover so many of the things that our former employee took. I’m sure you can imagine how much these items mean to the residents here. Some of these pieces of jewelry aren’t all that valuable, but they represent gifts from and memories of loved ones. As I’m sure you know, some things are worth far more than money.”

I agreed. After going through each of the items he signed for them and returned the evidence sheet to me. I stood, preparing to leave, when he stopped me.

“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to do me one small favor, would you, officer?”

I wondered why I would need to do another favor for him. After all, I’d just returned a number of stolen items. Shouldn’t that have been sufficient?

“I really do need to get back on the road, Mr. Ashby,” I said.

“You’re right. I shouldn’t impose. You’ve got places to go I imagine.”

Now verbally he was letting me off the hook, but his tone and facial expression told another story. I knew he was attempting reverse psychology on me. Something my wife and I did to our kids daily.

“What do you need?” I asked.

“It’ll only take a second. I promise. But it will mean so much to her.”

Ashby proceeded to tell me about an eighty-one-year-old patient named Ruth Perkins. Mrs. Perkins was suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“She’s all alone now,” Ashby said. “Her husband passed last year. They had one son, Nicholas, and he was a police officer. Nicholas was killed during a shootout many years ago. Apparently, he would visit her every Christmas, whether he was working or not and it meant the world to her. Her Alzheimer’s is advanced but she still manages to put several good days together each month. I have no idea how she does it, but she does.”

I sat down again as he continued.

“Every month since the death of her husband, just prior to the twenty-fifth, she gets it into her head that Christmas is approaching. She gets so excited and makes a point to tell all of the staff that her son is coming to visit. She even has a lighted ceramic tree that she makes us put up in her room. Of course when the twenty-fifth passes and Nicholas doesn’t show up her condition quickly worsens and she reverts back to her former state. It really is quite sad.”

“What do you want me to do?” I asked. “I’m not her son.”

“I know that, but I thought it might cheer her up to get a visit from an officer in uniform. If you could just stop by and wish her a Merry Christmas.”

I only wanted to get back to my comfort zone. Back to my cruiser. I really wasn’t enjoying the idea of popping in on an already confused old woman, possibly making her situation worse. But Ashby’s attempt at reverse psychology must have worked because I found myself saying okay.

He told me that he’d introduce me, then he led me down the hall to her room. I followed, amid the stares and whispers of the other residents. Each of them probably wondering what the cop was doing there. At last he stopped and entered a room. The sign on the door said R. Perkins and a white ceramic tree stood on the table under the window. As I rounded the corner I saw her sitting up in bed, wearing a festive green robe over a red sweater. She was wearing makeup and it looked like she had just paid a visit to the hair dresser. She looked dignified and radiant, like someone waiting to be called upon, not at all what I had expected.

“Mrs. Perkins,” Ashby said. “I’ve brought you a visitor.”

She turned toward me and her blue eyes lit up instantly. “Nicholas,” she cried out. “My Saint Nicholas, I knew you’d come. Didn’t I say he would come? Oh, this is the best Christmas ever.”

She held her arms out to me as I approached the bed. Awkwardly, I bent down toward her. She hugged me tightly, even kissed me on the cheek.

“Merry Christmas,” I said, as I felt myself blushing.

“I should leave the two of you alone now,” Ashby said, as he left.

I sat down in the chair beside the bed and she began asking me all sorts of questions. I was afraid that I might say the wrong thing, but as time passed it became obvious that nothing I said would lessen her faith that I was her son. We talked for close to an hour. I told her all about my family and about my work. She asked if I remembered this thing or that and of course I told her I did. The smile never left her face.

I stayed with her until she began to tire. All the excitement had worn her out. She hugged me again and made me promise to return the following day. Christmas Day. I promised that I would and kissed her on the cheek. I returned to my cruiser and radioed that I was back in service. My heart was full and I was happier than I’d been in a long while. It was clear that my visit to Ruth Perkins had had a positive effect on both of us. I no longer cared that I’d be missing this Christmas with my own family. Don’t get me wrong, I still wanted to be with them, but after visiting a lonely old woman I realized I had no right to complain. There would be other Christmases to spend with my family. Mrs. Perkins’ family was gone leaving her with only memories.

I returned to work the following day. Christmas Day turned out to be busier than any of us had imagined. A light snowfall had left the roads slick resulting in many accidents. The calls for service were already piling up by the time I hit the street.

It was nearly one in the afternoon before I was finally able to take a lunch break. I grabbed a sandwich and a couple of eggnogs at the local market before heading over to see Mrs. Perkins. I was excited about being able to keep my promise to her and looking forward to seeing her face light up at the sight of me.

I parked in the nearly vacant lot and headed inside. The receptionist was a different girl than the one I’d spoken to the previous day. Holiday help I assumed. She asked if she could help me and I politely declined. “Thank you but I’m all set. Just visiting someone.”

I walked down the corridor to her room, stopping as I reached her door. The room was empty. Her personal belongings were gone and the nameplate was missing from the door. I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me.

“Can I help you, officer?” a soft female voice asked from behind me.

I turned and saw a young orderly. “I’m looking for Mrs. Perkins. Ruth Perkins. Has she been moved?”

“Are you a relative?”

I pondered her question before answering. “Sort of. I just visited her yesterday.”

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Mrs. Perkins passed away last night.”


Many years have passed since that Christmas. I’m still a police officer with the same department. Heck, I’ve been on so long now that I get every Christmas off. I’ve never forgotten Ruth Perkins or her gift to me. Oh, I know what your thinking. That it was I who gave her one last visit with her son. But I think of it a it differently. I believe Mrs. Perkins is the one who bestowed a great gift on me. She restored my faith in humanity, helped me appreciate what I have. Her belief that I was her son was so strong and so real that I couldn’t help but feel the same love for her in return. Her faith and her love changed me forever. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Remember This Day

Bruce Robert Coffin: As I prepare for the rapidly approaching October 30th release of my third Detective Byron Mystery, Beyond the Truth, I can’t help but wax nostalgic. Join me now as I look back to a blog originally published in 2016 for the Maine Crime Writers describing the excitement of how it all began.

“Remember this day.” That was Paul Doiron’s advice to me the day I received paperback copies of my first novel.

It was Saturday morning and the sun was shining and the temperature was nearing eighty as I loaded my pickup with trash, returnables, and a full recycling bin. It was getting close to eleven and I hadn’t really eaten anything you’d likely call breakfast. My plan was to hit the town dump then head back into North Windham to drop off the bottles and cans at Hannaford’s. After that I figured I’d swing by the post office, hoping for something other than bills, maybe even a bit of positive cash flow, before grabbing lunch at a fast food joint.

I held the door for a polite young woman then headed into the gloomy interior of the postal facility hoping for good news. Upon opening the box I discovered a new registration certificate for my wife’s car, a single piece of junk mail, and a yellow slip informing me that I needed to see the desk clerk for an item. Now I’ve seen these slips before. Usually deliveries are only kept at the counter when they’re either too big for the package bins or when all the bins are full. My mind raced. What could it be? Being early September, I surmised a pre-holiday fruitcake was probably out of the question. I hadn’t ordered anything recently and I couldn’t remember Karen telling me that she was waiting on anything. Although, maybe she had but I hadn’t been listening. Maybe she’d mentioned the purchase of some latest fashion, and instead of listening I’d glazed over like she does whenever I try and explain the inner workings of something mechanical, like the stereo remote. It was possible. The only thing I could imagine was the case of novels my publisher had promised to fulfill their contractual obligation. My pulse quickened. What was waiting for me behind the post office counter?

I dashed back to the lobby with my yellow card. Two clerks were working the counter, but the line was out to the door. My heart sank. What time does the North Windham Post Office close on Saturday? Damn. I couldn’t remember. Noon? That sounded right. I checked the time. 11:35. It was gonna be close. One by one I watched in horror as the two employees waited on my fellow Mainers. Each had a package or letters needing special handling, and wrapping, and weighing. And stamps! A collector was buying sheets. What the hell?

“Oops, hang on. That one needs another piece of packing tape,” a clerk said to one of the customers.

I was sure of it now. They were trying to kill me.

I checked my phone again. 11:40. OMG. I looked down and caught myself nervously tapping my right foot on the linoleum. I stopped.

“Yes, it has been a very dry summer, Mrs. Smith. How’s your garden?”

How’s her garden? Who cares? Jesus, if you’d just hurry up I’ll drive you to the grocery store myself and buy you all the vegetables you could ever want!


I examined the yellow card in my hand. Read it again. I realized there was something familiar about it, this yellow card. Ah ha. I had it. The Yellow Card Man, from 11/22/63. Stephen King’s novel about the Kennedy assassination. My only hope was it didn’t foreshadow that I was about to step through some portal to the past, where I’d never find out what had been delivered.


A customer finished at the counter and the line inched forward. I took one step. I thought again about the possibility of it being my novel. Was that even likely? I’d been in constant contact with both my editor and my publicist all week, and neither mentioned anything about the books being ready. Wouldn’t they have known? Of course they would. Maybe it wasn’t the books after all. Maybe I was being silly. How long does fruitcake keep? I looked down at my foot again. It was moving a little. I willed it to stop.

11:50. Another satisfied customer peeled off and walked past me. One of the clerks looked at her watch.

Oh, no you don’t, I thought. Nobody leaves until I get my package.

The next customer shuffled up to the counter in slow motion.

I was due to be next. I glanced left and right, watching each transaction closely. Who would finish with their customer first? The male clerk on my left or the female on my right? People read left to right. I was betting on left. Come on, come on.

11:55. I was beginning to feel a little like Oswald.

Finally, the customer at the window on my left was done and the male clerk waved me forward. Hot damn! I was working hard to hide my angst.

“May I help you?” the clerk asked.

“Yes,” I said, my voice cracking. “I received this slip in my mailbox.”

He took the slip from me. “What number?”

“What?” I said.

“Your box number. What is it?”

I couldn’t remember! I’d just emptied it and now I couldn’t remember the number!

I stared at the clerk. He stared back at me. What the hell? I couldn’t leave the line to go look. There were people behind me. They’d close before I ever made it back to the counter. I looked down at what I was holding in my hand. Mail. Ha! Correspondence from the state that had my address on it!

I recited my box number to him, fighting to stay calm. He repeated it back then walked out of sight. If this turned out to be clothes for my wife or a fruitcake, I’d be tying one on. Without question, the Yellow Card Man had reached his limit.

I watched in astonishment as the clerk rounded the corner with a large nondescript cardboard box. He had it on his hip and was struggling a bit with it’s weight. It certainly wasn’t a fruitcake. Too big for that. And clothes wouldn’t have been nearly as heavy.

Remain calm.

I watched him set the box atop the counter. A piece of paper was taped to the backside, but I couldn’t see what it said. I lowered my voice an octave trying to project cool. “Does it say who it’s from?”

He bent down to look. “Um, says it’s from HarperCollins, the publisher.”

My publisher! It was my books! Hallelujah!

“Man, I’ve been waiting for that,” I heard myself say from outside of my body.

I heard murmuring from the line behind me. Most likely someone thinking about driving me to the local bookstore to buy me some books if I’d only get moving.

“What is it?” the clerk asked.

I dropped yet another octave, moving from cool to nonchalant. “Oh, it’s just a bunch of copies of my debut novel, Among the Shadows.”

“What’s it about?” he inquired.

More murmuring.

“It’s a mystery,” I said, smiling proudly as I lifted the box and headed for the door.

Being Published

Bruce Robert Coffin: The other day I was scanning through some of my old blogs when I came upon Being Published. I wrote this three years ago, after receiving an invite to guest blog for the Maine Crime Writers. As the two year anniversary of the publication of my debut novel approaches, I couldn’t think of a better blog to revisit.

The other day someone asked what it felt like to have one of my stories published. I told them it felt great. Of course. What else would I have said? My answer was short and direct, although as I think back on that moment, not entirely truthful. The truth is beyond words.

My writer friends have been a constant source of encouragement. Saying things like, “don’t worry it will happen,” and, “your writing is good, it’s just a matter of time.” But as the years passed I began to worry. Do I really have what it takes to break through the barrier? The unpublished writer’s corner? I wondered…

In spite of the ever present specter of doubt, I worked hard on rewriting and re-editing my first novel, crafting new short stories and rewriting and re-editing those, again and again. I had trusted friends and relatives read my work and offer their opinions and advice. I continued to enter contests and submit my work to publishers and agents. And I continued to add to my collection of rejection e-mails.

If you’ve never received one, I can tell you first hand that notices of rejection from the publishing world are funny things. They look suspiciously like Dear John letters. Designed to soften the blow, they say things like, “We thoroughly enjoyed your story,” or “your work shows real promise.” Well written and pleasant, but rejections just the same. As painful and heartbreaking as if they’d come from an ex-girlfriend to someone actually named John.

You can drive yourself crazy. I reacted differently each time I received a rejection. Sometimes I’d feel depressed. Other times I’d be angry. Pissed that they’d failed to recognized the brilliance in my writing. I thought, what possible story could someone have penned that was better than the one I’d submitted? Jeesh. But then I’d take a step back. Eventually, reading the work of the writers they did publish. Wow, I’d think. That story really was better than mine. I’d love to write a story that good. Then I’d look at the rejection e-mail again. It wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe they really did like my story.

So, I climbed back into the saddle of my trusted steed (my IPad), vowing to continue my quest. To push on toward that holy grail of publication. Being able to hold my head up high as I walked among the published writers, knowing I belonged. That I was one of them. From that day forward whenever someone I’d just met asked what I did, and I answered that I was a writer, I could mean it. When they asked the enviable follow-up question, where can I find your work? No longer would I have to mumble, oh, I’m not published yet, before slithering away to some dark corner in search of alcohol or a high ledge. I’d be able to actually tell them! Maybe they’ll want a signed copy of my work? Sure, I’ll say. Happy to do it. Who should I make this out to?

The truth is, when I awoke on that memorable Tuesday morning and checked my email, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The word congratulations hung there on the screen. Surely this must be spam that somehow made its way into my inbox. Who else begins an email with congratulations? Certainly not a publisher. Obviously, In my pre-coffee state I was hallucinating. The SPAM must have been right next to another rejection email and I’d jumbled the words together in my mind. I was sure that when I looked back the email would tell me that I’d won a free four day trip to the Caribbean, or maybe a surprise gift, all of which would only cost me three easy payments of $999.99.

I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Congratulations. It really was from a publisher. I jumped out of bed and did a short awkward version of the Snoopy dance. Thankfully, there were no witnesses. I located my wife in the next room. Wanting to appear nonchalant, I calmed myself first. When I told her the news, she let out a squeal of delight. I think I might have let out a squeal too. I was over the moon. Giddy with excitement. Insert any other tired cliché for thrilled that you can think of, here.

Time has passed. I’ve read that email at least a hundred times. Shared the news with others and tried to get a handle on the idea of finally getting published. What does it mean? What it means is working harder. Writing more and honing my craft. In the past week I’ve penned a new short story and returned to the task of re-editing my first novel. Neither of which feels like a burden any longer. Now that I’m a published writer.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, this newly published writer has a lawn to mow.